New York

“Disarming Genres”

Artists Space Exhibitions

Independent video’s woeful lack of distribution is matched only by television’s ubiquity; and as a result some of the best independent video examines its culturally potent mass-media counterpart. Curator Micki McGee has brought together work that draws on and analyzes familiar film and television genres. By subverting the seductiveness of media staples, the artists represented here hope to subvert the genres’ prescribed endings toward more interactive concepts of the viewer’s role.

Dry Kisses Only, 1990, by Kaucyi la Brooke and Jane Cottis is a witty and incisive look at lesbian subtexts in conventional Hollywood productions. The narrator, who appears in “familiar” TV settings, anchors clips from various films with commentary that is by turns playful and serious. Brooke and Cottis portray lesbian relationships that are routinely repressed in overt texts of mainstream films while simultaneously exploited as subtexts that fuel heterosexual closure before the final credits. Dry Kisses Only attempts an on-screen analysis of the off-screen role of the viewer in the production of meaning. Throughout the tape, lesbian-on-the-street interviews satyrically underscore the limited options the film industry represents.

Man-on-the-street interviews are the subject of Tony Ramos’ video About Media, 1977. Ramos’ own experience as an interviewee provides the focus for the tape. He was chosen to react to President Carter’s amnesty for draft evaders from the point of view of someone who served time in prison for refusing military service. In a comical who’s-watching-whom encounter, Ramos’ cameraman tapes a television reporter as he and his crew prepare for the interview. Some of the most telling moments occur when a member of the network’s crew starts giving helpful hints to Ramos’ cameraman. In doing so, he reveals many of the conventions of the television news format. The earliest video in the series, About Media, remains a fresh and provocative work.

Less successful are John Greyson’s The Kipling Trilogy, 1984–85, and Norman Cowie’s Lying in State, 1989. Greyson’s tape is based loosely on a gay rereading of stories by Rudyard Kipling, while Cowie’s tape remixes political advertising hype and hard news from the Reagan era. Kipling’s stories offer Greyson a way of emphasizing similarities in the rhetorical turns of colonialism and sexual repression, but his analysis doesn’t seem to go far enough; instead he returns to subversive strategies that quickly become predictable. Cowie’s tape is likewise hampered by its editing, which so closely resembles the haphazard experience of flicking from station to station with a remote control, that the added layer of critical political analysis starts to appear equally facile.

Chip Lord, in Not Top Gun, 1989, has done a remarkable job of bringing the “warnography” of the movie Top Gun down to earth. Like most of the artists included here, Lord is not afraid to have the viewer read the art. The fast cutting of the Hollywood film is juxtaposed with the much slower rhythm of Lord’s own editing. Facts roll down and across the screen, as Lord allows the viewer time to think.

In her tape Joan Does Dynasty, 1986, Joan Braderman performs her dazzling brand of feminist stand-up theory. Through the magic of video she appears in the midst of the seductive images she deconstructs. As Braderman puts it at one point in the tape, “we have to get in the box, that’s where the power is.”

Rea Tajiri’s The Hitchcock Trilogy, 1987, brings together a small number of images of minimal complexity and long duration that are accompanied by intricate suspense music from three Hitchcock films. On one level, the viewer is left reading so little with so much expectation; on another, in a way that is not easily forgotten, Tajiri points to a few important instabilities in the construction of suspense and narrative.

Richard C. Ledes